As a child, I didn’t want to be bad. So I was good. I accepted the stories that people told me about my father because it was easier to go along with the crowd than it was to stick up for the underdog. I disregarded my unwavering desire to know and love my father with my whole heart so that I could fit in with the family I lived with 5 days a week.
This fractured my soul.
This created instability in my heart, a shaky ground that told me that I couldn’t trust my own feelings. From the moment that my mom told me that they were getting a divorce, I slipped further and further away from my instinct – never recovering it or even knowing that it was missing until I had children of my own.
In the 3rd grade I remember the Arcaro twins. They were smart, attractive, athletic boys who were very well liked. One day in centers, they told me that their parents were divorced. I scoffed. Divorce? That’s awful! My parents would never get a divorce!
“That would never happen to my family.”
I remember actually telling them that. I was so sure that would never happen to me that I actually uttered it out loud with conviction. But suddenly 2 years later I was spending the night in an apartment by the mall with my dad and his new girlfriend, who supposedly broke up my parent’s marriage.
Memory hooks are not always for quadratic equations and English class. Some memories, like the Arcaro twins, are small seeds planted with care by the universe to serendipitously return to teach you a lesson.
I realize that day with the twins was the last time I remembering having faith. I held firmly to the belief that my family would never be broken or fractured; my parents even assured me of it. They had never broken my confidence before. I trusted them, their marriage, and our family with every fiber of my being. So much so that I didn’t mind saying “Divorce? That would never happen to my family.”
But then it did. And the stomachaches started. The missing school. The fear of throwing up. The crying in the bathtub. The confusion, the fear, the anxiety. It all culminated inside of me in moments when I was alone because when we were all together the energy was so strong that I couldn’t find my own voice. The sarcastic remarks between my parents, the side eye my mom gave my stepmom who always waited in the car. The comments from my stepdad about IRS documents pertaining to my dad’s missed child support payments. The smirks and glances he and my mom would give each other whenever we would come home with brand new sneakers and hundreds of toys. Like a human trash compactor, I absorbed all of it and it wrote unsafe, insecure messages on my heart. As a ten year old.
I couldn’t be as happy as I wanted to be about my relationship with my father because that would disappoint my mom and my stepdad. I couldn’t tell Dad stories about life with Mom because maybe he would feel left out or worse, forgotten.
But who was remembering me?
So on this Sunday, on the cusp of turning 30 years old and having created a firmer foundation for myself, that familiar trash compactor experience felt a little more alive than usual. I felt myself leave the center of my being and I started to do the dance. Stepdad at the kitchen table not making eye contact with anyone. He’d just been sharing pictures from his childhood with me and in barges my dad. He’s on the back burner once again. Mom in the kitchen nervously wiping counters, her boundaries crossed again when my dad walked in the door. Her trying to rationalize it away because my son was the one who opened it. She offers him something to drink to be a good hostess as he takes a seat she didn’t offer to him in the first place. My dad working the room, seemingly blind to the shift in energy that took place the moment he walked in. My feet shifted, my eyes darted. I wanted him to leave so this feeling would dissipate. I recognized it. I sat (well, STOOD) with it.
This too shall pass.
As my dad finally announced he was leaving, I hurriedly ushered him to the door, smiling and giving kisses. Archer began to cry and my dad returned. Not this again! He’s going to stay and everyone is going to start rolling their eyes any minute now! I scooped Archer up into my arms and continued pushing my dad to the door. He gave us a big hug and walked to his car. And then it happened.
I stood on the porch waving to my Dad as he drove away, just as I did countless times 20 years ago. We had both cried over this moment privately, then together when we talked about the pain we both felt when we were forced to separate from each other. All of those feelings I felt, he felt them too. But this time I was a grown woman, holding my son in my arms who was also waving. Just then my dad rolled his window down before he drove away and yelled, “The Door!” And I knew. I knew in that moment we had both been simultaneously healed just as we had been simultaneously hurt all those years ago. I felt happiness rush through my body as the tears surfaced. I looked at Archer, still waving, and gave him a big hug and a kiss. There was someone there in my arms with me and I felt free.
As I looked into my son’s eyes I asked myself if raising my children with intention was the reason my father and I went through such painful times together. If, by the grace of God, I was being pushed to wave goodbye to my daddy all of those years ago to prepare myself for the pure joy and stability of this moment right here. Shifting eyes, sideways glances, or lonely tears. I regret none of the feelings. Because of those moments I have a reason to keep fighting in my own marriage and for my own family.
So my children will never know the gravity of what it means to have a piece of your heart live miles away from you.
So my husband will never have to drive away alone and in pieces, away from the life he once knew.
So that I would never have to gently pull one of my sons inside as he watched his dad’s car turn the corner and know he silently wished he was with him instead.
It’s not going to happen. Because this last time at the door, my faith – the unabashed, firm, confident faith I had when I was 8 years old – was anchored back into my soul. I gave Archer another kiss and walked back inside